NEW YORK » Masahiro Tanaka took a very small step toward returning to the New York Yankees’ rotation, playing a pain-free game of catch.
Tanaka made 25 throws from 60 feet Monday, his first action since being sidelined in early July with a small tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
The rookie sensation from Japan was 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA before landing on the disabled list. He is trying to avoid Tommy John surgery, which would sideline the 25-year-old All-Star for at least a year.
"I think it all went well," Tanaka said through a translator. "I think I get to the next step, so I’m very relieved about that."
Manager Joe Girardi cautions that this is slow start in a long process, but was encouraged the throwing in the outfield went well.
Tanaka will play catch again Tuesday and will increase the intensity as he goes along. Girardi said the real test will come when Tanaka gets on a mound and faces competition.
"It’s way too early to see," Girardi said. "It’s positive that he didn’t feel anything today, but it’s really light catch."
Michael Pineda, another sidelined Yankees starter, appears much closer to a return from a right shoulder muscle injury. The right-hander threw 58 pitches in 3 1-3 innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday.
A day later, he was happy with how his shoulder felt.
Girardi said the Yankees would like for Pineda to make two more rehabilitation starts and increase his endurance to 90-100 pitches. But New York might have a heightened need for the big righty, who was hurt in a simulated game as he prepared to return from a suspension for being caught using pine tar to help his grip in late April.
Fill-in starter David Phelps was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday before New York played the Detroit Tigers because of right elbow inflammation.
The Yankees recalled Matt Daley from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to fill Phelps’ spot on the roster.
Phelps will not pick up a baseball for two weeks so he cannot be counted on for much of August. Girardi, however, said a second MRI on Phelps’ elbow showed only tendinitis.